Students learn the letter and the spirit of the law
By Kenna Caprio
November 13, 2020 — This semester, four Florham Campus students studying government, law and political science are seeing firsthand — through an externship with the law firm Schenck, Price, Smith & King — the dynamic and diverse practice of law.
“It’s a rare opportunity,” says Madelyn Ferrans, an attorney and adjunct professor who teaches prelaw courses at FDU, and also coaches the Mock Trial team. “These four exceptional students excel in the classroom and now they’re soaking in the externship experience, personally and professionally.”
The externship is foundational for senior Maggie Garbarino and juniors Taylor Bellardino, Kesha Patel and Jennifer Radke. They’re being introduced to current cases; sitting in on client meetings, depositions, arbitration and mediation; and attending site inspections.
“To see how attorneys question witnesses with compassion and understanding, while still pursuing answers, and seeing how they have to take charge if a witness gets agitated or hostile is really valuable,” says Radke, who is also interning at Schenck Price this semester.
As the women consider attending law school, it’s been illuminating to have an inside look at daily firm operations and at the core responsibilities of being a lawyer.
“You have to have the dedication, the mindset, the skillset and the passion for law to be an effective and capable lawyer,” says Bellardino. “Being a successful female attorney is going to be difficult. You have to put in long hours and get through the hardships, because ultimately, you’re going to have the rewarding and fulfilling experience of protecting your clients’ liberty, interests and freedom.”
The students have been exposed to four law practices — construction law, school law, labor and employment law, and business associations and transactions. Much of the externship has been conducted over Zoom, but the students have had some face-to-face interactions when possible, with COVID-19 precautions in place.
Patel and Bellardino accompanied one of the construction law attorneys to an unfinished field. In this case, the firm is working with a city and a contractor to restart the stalled project. “I didn’t expect to like construction law, but we were standing in the field — it was all muddy and rocky — and listening to all the different things that go into building something, and it was just so cool and informative,” says Patel. “It’s so helpful to see what it’s like to be an attorney in practice in all different areas, to see the specifics and not think about it in the abstract.”
They’re also meeting one-on-one with attorneys, allowing students the chance to ask in-depth questions about the industry and receive thorough answers from professionals.
“Many of the attorneys have recommended working on our writing skills because it’s a big part of practicing law. You have to be a really strong writer. They’ve suggested we strengthen public speaking skills through mock trial or moot court,” says Garbarino. Another attorney whom she spoke to outside of Schenck Price, one of the externship course requirements, encouraged her to consider joining law review in law school.
The externship, perhaps more than anything is else, expanded networking opportunities for Radke, Patel, Garbarino and Bellardino.
“This is advanced insight into the operations of a law firm,” says Schenck Price partner Cynthia Flanagan, BA’00 (Flor). “They get to see how lawyers are of service in all different capacities. It’s always great to be able to share the best parts of being a lawyer. We want more lawyers to join our profession and to be excited about it.”
The academic components of the externship, offered as a two or three-credit course, include firm visits (both in-person and virtual), reflective journals, attorney interviews and question- and answer-sessions. In a final paper, the students must summarize and analyze three of the legal experiences they’ve had during the semester.
“The externship is a wonderful extension of the classroom and an opportunity for the students to learn from seasoned experts who have worked in the ‘legal trenches.’ We’re grateful we’ve had such a terrific group of students to kick off this experiment and, of course, we’re grateful for all the support and attentive care we’ve received from Schenck Price,” says Bruce Peabody, professor of government and politics.
The externship is just one of the ways that Schenck Price and FDU have forged a strong connection. Previously, the firm supported the University’s Charter Day fundraiser and gala, and the New Jersey Speakers Series, which brought distinguished speakers to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J. The firm has held events on campus and given lectures at FDU’s School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
Schenck Price, a firm specializing in a variety of practices, maintains New Jersey offices in Florham Park, Sparta and Paramus and one in New York City, N.Y.
“As two long-standing Morris County institutions, there are innumerable, unlimited opportunities for collaboration, cooperation and education,” says Schenck Price Managing Partner Gary Werner. “I have such respect for the quality education that Fairleigh Dickinson University provides to its student body.”